3rd Sunday of Easter — May 1, 2022

Teri McDowell Ott’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

Easter 3C
John 21:1-19

Recently, a friend called to ask me to preach at a large event. I received the call in my car, driving to my daughter’s track meet, my GPS shouting at me in the background. The event fell right before my family’s relocation to Virginia. I responded to my friend’s invitation poorly, speaking more out of my stress than my heart and head. I offended him with brash, inarticulate words explaining why I couldn’t possibly do what he was asking. When I recognized our conversation had gone south, I pulled over so I could focus and make amends. We concluded our conversation on a better note, but I still felt ashamed afterwards.

Preceding our lectionary passage for this Sunday, we read how Peter denied his association with Jesus three times (John 18:15-27). Jesus had been arrested, and Peter was no doubt afraid he’d be next. When asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter lied: “I am not.” We can only imagine how this denial left Peter feeling — whether he delivered his lie with panic or with bluster, any disciple would feel ashamed to abandon Jesus in his time of greatest need.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes about the destructive power of shame, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is rooted, Brown writes, in our fear of disconnection: “the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.”

These powerful feelings of shame can lead us to self-destructive and relationship-destructive behaviors. Shame keeps us from being vulnerable and real. We find ourselves attacking or disengaging to feel better or to protect ourselves from further harm.

This Sunday’s lectionary text from John 21:1-19 narrates Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples and Peter’s chance at redemption. When naked Peter hears Jesus calling to his disciples, his immediate response is to get dressed. This action recalls the Genesis narrative where Adam hides from God in the garden. Peter is ashamed of his sin. He needs to cover his nakedness so he doesn’t feel so vulnerable and exposed before Jesus. But, as biblical commentator Joseph A. Bessler writes, “in contrast to Adam, Peter does not allow his shame to stop him from moving toward the one he loves.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2) Peter jumps from the fishing boat into the Sea of Tiberias, desperate to reengage with his teacher. Paralleling his three-fold denial, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Peter answers each time, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” breaking free of his shame, reconnecting with Jesus, and embracing the healing and wholeness our Savior offers.

We all experience shame. We all harbor feelings of unworthiness, especially after we do or say something that is not representative of our best selves. What matters more than our shame, though, is how we respond. I was grateful for the chance to talk to my friend again the day after our call, to apologize for the way I’d reacted to his invitation and mend our relationship more fully. The hope Jesus offers in this beautiful scene with Peter is the hope of redemption. No matter what we have done, what we have said, or how we feel about ourselves, Jesus welcomes. Jesus receives. Jesus makes us whole.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How have you witnessed or experienced shame eroding courage and fueling disengagement?
  2. How have you witnessed or experienced courage in the face of shame, a willingness to be vulnerable and real despite feelings of unworthiness?
  3. How does this passage call to you? What is the Holy Spirit asking of you through this passage?

To print, use this .pdf version: LITL_May1

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